|Gary Johnson, my father, in the 90's with his beloved Chris Kvale frame|
My father was not born to be a cyclist like me. He happened to fall into it after his time in Vietnam and while living with a room mate that bike raced. That was almost forty years ago. Although he doesn't race currently, he is still pumping out huge mileage--and can ride circles around me.
|my dad racing in the late 70's|
Since my dad got into racing "late" in life (in his late 20's), he didn't get a chance to race professionally. Racing actually didn't come naturally to him like some I know. He had to work hard at it, and that he did. He would work his paving job with the city of Minneapolis for eight to ten hours in all conditions and would then hop on his bike for a club or solo ride that would last thirty to fifty miles...weekend rides were around seventy or were set aside for races. I remember being in awe of his calender from Velo News since that is where he'd keep his training log (no computers back then). He was religious about writing down the mileage, conditions and workouts he had completed. He always said that he didn't "get his legs" until mile 2000, usually in June
Although he started racing as a "senior", most of his time was spent as a "vet" (old term for young "master" racers) and as a "master". His love was criteriums or "crits" as they are called by racers. He was a tactical racer and always knew where to be in the pack for the last few laps or for a prime. He studied the other racer's strengths and weaknesses as well as the course. Most of the time he made the podium and competed well in both the state and national championships. I got to the point that I knew where he'd be for the last few laps, he taught me how to read this mass of swarming riders and I could usually pick who'd win from their placement in the pack. By watching him, I learned better bike handling skills for when I'd go on group rides. I also learned volunteering for events was just as important as being in the event. My dad served as the MCF (Minnsota Cycling Federation) president for years and put on the famed fairgrounds races in St.Paul.
He was always drawn to the "classics" both in races, riders and gear. Spring meant watching the Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice and the Giro d'Italia on t.v. I think Sean Kelly was his hero--may still be today. He appreciated racers that weren't showy. Guys like Sean Kelly, Raul Alcala and Andy Hampsten ranked much higher than Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon and Lance Armstrong. My dad held on to riding a steel frame and toe straps until everyone else had switched over. His Schwinn Paramount and Chris Kvale frame are now coveted items in the cycling world.
I look back and think that he could have fallen to the use of drugs or alcohol after his time in the war like so many others did. Instead, his bike became his drug. From early spring to late fall everyone always knew where to find him...on his bike. In the winter he'd cross train by cross country skiing, speed skating or running and now lifts weights during the off season.
Most of his early years racing were with the team I also raced for, Gopher Wheelman. Later, he would switch to Kenwood Cyclery (now defunct), Flanders Brothers and then to Grand Performance. I can't say I was too happy to see him flip to the "enemy" but now I understand he was just looking for the best oiled machine of a team. Recently, he lost his drive for racing while battling cancer (in remission now) and decided to start his own club called Rosemount Cycling Club. What started out as a dozen or so riders, has now swelled to over eighty. He still rides with Grand Performance and Flanders at times, like when he crosses the Wisconsin border for killer 120 mile jaunts, but most rides are now with his group.
|part of the Rosemount Cycling Club (Gary is third from the left)|
God knows as a teen, I didn't appreciate waking up early Saturdays to ride or watch races. In hindsight, though, I can thank him for introducing me to the best sport/hobby/lifestyle I could imagine. For that, I thank him and raise a glass of good beer in his honor. I can only hope to be half as strong as he is now when I'm 65!